Local food isn’t automatically better for you. But better nutrition is a major reason Maine hospitals are trying to improve their food.

Sometimes the two goals – more healthful food and more local food – coincide, as they did recently at Maine Medical Center when the hospital teamed up with a local company to make a better pizza dough.

It’ll Be Pizza, the manufacturer that makes dough for Portland Pie Co., created a multigrain, low-sodium pizza dough for the Portland hospital. The dough contains less than half the sodium of the old version, cutting it from 475 milligrams to 218 milligrams per slice.

Hospitals in the MaineHealth system have joined the 700 hospitals nationwide that are participating in the Hospital Healthy Food Initiative, a program of the Partnership for a Healthy America. The program, begun in 2012, uses techniques such as nutrition labeling and creating “wellness meals” to give hospital food a healthy makeover.

Some hospitals are getting rid of their fryolators, or taking salt shakers off the tables in their cafeterias. Others are promoting water in place of sodas, or replacing the junk food by the cash register with fruit and other healthy snacks.

MaineHealth joined the program in part after learning that two-thirds of its 17,000 employees statewide are overweight or obese.


One of the hardest targets to reach in the program is sodium, which is where the pizza dough comes in. The partnership with MaineHealth means the pizza company can make the dough available to all 12 hospitals in the MaineHealth system. There’s plenty of dough, and it’s easy to purchase.

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” said Naomi Shucker, who works on healthy weight initiatives at MaineHealth. “You’ve got the economies of scale that drive the price to the right level.”

Maine Med was also able to cut some of the fat in its pizza by learning from the experts at It’ll Be Pizza. Instead of shredded cheese, Portland Pie uses cheese that’s formed into little balls. The cheese spreads more evenly so the cook can use less.

Though not part of the Partnership for a Healthy America, MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta has also been focusing on more nutritious foods. The hospital’s cafeteria hosts a “meatless Monday.” It has cut back on bacon. The menu offers healthier food, such as mock-fried kung pao chicken, and vegan, gluten-free sweet and sour pineapple tofu over brown rice.

The hospital sponsors two farmers markets, one in Augusta and one in Waterville. They send dietitians to each market to answer the public’s questions.

Maine hospitals are trying to be better dietary role models for the public, and they’re embracing the philosophy that better nutrition may also aid healing.

“Food is good medicine,” Sheila Costello, nutrition manager at Waldo County General Hospital, said. “Who doesn’t want a delicious homemade soup when they’re sick?”

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